Column: A wise guy looks at the Super Bowl

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Ask Lem Banker about the New York Giants and he tells the story of how he won a bet against them in the 1958 NFL championship game, when Alan Ameche bowled into the end zone from a yard out in overtime to win it for the Baltimore Colts.

The game, at Yankee Stadium, was a television classic that captivated the country and sparked its love affair with the NFL. If it wasn’t the greatest title game ever, it was surely the most significant.

For the gambler, though, it was just a win.

“I’ve had plenty of good losers, too,” Banker said. “You’re never going to get them all right.”

Maybe not, though Banker once had a streak of 13 straight Super Bowl winners picking against the spread. Good thing, because he’s never had a real job and winners pay the bills.

They have over the years, starting when he began booking bets in the family candy store in Union City, N.J., where his father would take the neighborhood action in between dispensing sweets. The son was a good enough basketball player to get scholarship offers, but he became even better at betting sports.

He’ll be 85 this year, and he can still recall the big bets and bad beats of a career spent betting on the fortune of sports. The phone still rings in his sprawling home with people asking him “Lem, who do ya like?”

If he’s not the greatest sports bettor _ and many think he is _ he’s certainly the one of the few who have been around this long. He was especially good at picking winners of big fights, not surprising since he was Sonny Liston’s best friend when the fearsome slugger ruled the heavyweight ranks.

Right now it’s all about football. Always is at this time of year, something Banker was reminded of this week when his manicurist gave him her pick for the Super Bowl while filing his nails.

“Everybody has an opinion on the Super Bowl,” Banker said.

That’s good news for this city’s bookmakers, who could do record business in the matchup between the Giants and the New England Patriots. The wise guys will push their usual six-figure bets across the counter, but it’s the massive flood of money from the squares betting $20 bills that will determine who is favored and by how much next week in Indianapolis.

Some will risk their money because they believe the Giants have a stifling defense or are a team of destiny. Others will wager because they like the way Tom Brady does his hair.

The smart ones, though, may look to a man who made his first Super Bowl bet on the first Super Bowl and ask:

So, Lem, who do ya like?

“I’m laying the points and taking New England,” Banker said. “It’s really very simple. To me, Tom Brady is the best quarterback I’ve ever seen _ and I’ve seen a lot of them back from when I was a kid and Sid Luckman was playing.”

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